Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oh! The tales I could tell...

Somewhere in my voluminous slide library (and I mean SLIDE library: 35 mm.: remember those?) I have a picture of the first specimen of this plant I ever saw. Not far outside Bristol, with a wonderful view of the Severn estuary lived Eric and Mabel Hilton. Eric was a keen rock gardener, and he and I had corresponded and swapped seed many years. I visited them on my very first visit to England, and his expansive garden "Severn View". I recall the wonderful days I spent there, photographing and marvelling at the hundreds of wonderful alpines thriving in Eric's endless screes and rock work, all in crisp, bright April sunshine with the sea shining below. There were hundreds of plants in that garden I yearned for, but none more so than a tiny bergenia with white flowers. I photographed the clump, easily a meter across, studded with hundreds of flowers...
This picture isn't that original plant, incidentally. It's a rooted cutting I brought home from the plant below, which was in turn a rooted cutting from Eric's original clump. He brought a single piece to me in Denver as one of his host gifts when he and Mabel visited in 1982. The plant is Bergenia stracheyi 'Alba'--a nearly pure white form of the predominant bergenia that grows in the Western Himalaya in unbelievable abundance. You see, the leathery leaves are apparently unpalatable to sheep, goats, cattle etc., and in September of 2011 when I visited Pakistan, this species dazzled me with its abundance and ubiquity above treeline. We managed to get a pinch of seed, and now grow a pinker, somewhat larger form in Plantasia of this taxon, but this tiny, white flowered one is still my favorite of the genus. Perhaps because I saw it in the wild. More likely because it brings back memories of Eric and Mabel--two wonderful gardeners--who treated me so splendidly nearly 30 years ago!

In addition to the wonderful flowers, the terrific fall color recommends this to rock gardeners especially: here is the best colony I have grown, which still occupies this spot in the Rock Alpine Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens. Over the years I have foisted cuttings of this plant on no end of garden visitors, most of whom aren't terribly enthusiastic...until last weekend. Of the thousands of plants in my garden, the one that John Lonsdale fixated upon in my garden was this plant. I managed to send him off with lots of cacti and other goodies from my garden and cold frame, but I forgot to give John a piece of this wonderful, tiny bergenia...I am writing this (and copying it to him) so that he knows I haven't forgotten. By the way, if you have not visited John's website, you're missing out on one of the high points of the world wide web...I shall root some for you, John, and post them this spring!
What amazes me about plants and gardens is that every plant has this sort of history! Truly amazing...


  1. You were in Pakistan in sept 2011? I always knew you are a wizard! Can you go back/forward again?

  2. Okay, wise guy. So I'm chronologically challenged!


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